Thursday 23 November 2017

Space for private practice at the €300m taxpayer-funded hospital

Building owned by nuns will make profit from charging rent

An artist's impression of the new hospital (Children's Hospital Group/PA Wire)
An artist's impression of the new hospital (Children's Hospital Group/PA Wire)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Dedicated space for private practice will be provided in the controversial new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) planned for the St Vincent's campus. That's despite the project being funded with State investment to the tune of €300m.

The Irish Independent has established that the new hospital will have rooms for doctors to see private patients.

It has also been confirmed that the NMH-linked Merrion Fertility Clinic - which treats private and public patients - plans to move there from its current location beside Holles Street.

The Department of Health appeared unaware of this when first asked if the clinic was moving to the new hospital.

Meanwhile, the future of a separate business - Merrion Fetal Health - where expectant mothers can avail of scans, remains unclear.

That organisation is a partnership between NMH doctors, including the Master of the hospital, Rhona Mahony.

Health Minister Simon Harris was asked for a statement on why taxpayers' funds should be used to provide space for private practice at the new hospital.

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His spokeswoman said the "finer details" of legal and contractual arrangements can't be provided "at this early stage".

She said: "The minister has repeatedly emphasised that the protection of taxpayers' money is an absolute priority for him and that continues to be the case."

Plans for the hospital have been at the centre of a row over the St Vincent's campus being owned by a religious order, the Sisters of Charity.

However, questions also arise from the provision of facilities for private practice there.

Architectural drawings on the website for the project show five rooms labelled 'Private Consult', with secretaries' desks directly outside. The corridor is labelled 'Private Clinics'.

A spokesperson for the NMH said that consultants will pay rent for dedicated rooms where they see private patients in the new hospital, as they currently do at Holles Street.

She said the NMH makes a profit from private practice.

"Roughly one third of its income comes from private practice and this makes the hospital viable. Consultants will continue to pay rent to use rooms in the new hospital," she said.

Read More: If St Vincent's plan did fail, where else can the maternity hospital go?

On whether or not consultants will contribute to the cost of building the hospital, she said: "It is normal practice for tenants in any building to pay rent, but not construction costs, and that's what will happen here."

The plans show 244 single-occupancy rooms with en suites. The NMH spokesperson said that there are currently private rooms at Holles Street, but "there can also be up to 14 public patients in one ward".

She added: "In the new hospital, every patient, public and private, will have a single room. This is the way it should be, and we are very proud of this."

Merrion Fertility Clinic, a not-for-profit firm, confirmed that it currently pays rent to the NMH and will be moving to the St Vincent's campus. Its statement said the details of the plan have yet to be finalised.

Merrion Fetal Health said it has "no plans to relocate" to St Vincent's. A NMH spokesperson said the practice "may not be needed at all at the new hospital". There are extensive scanning facilities planned there.

A Department of Health spokesman said there was "no differentiation between public and private in-patient rooms" in the new hospital.

He said there is "no provision" in the design for Merrion Fetal Health or Merrion Fertility Clinic.

Asked if the department was unaware of the fertility clinic's plans to make the move, the spokesman later said there is an "assisted conception area". The spokesman added it's not possible "at this early stage to answer detailed questions regarding the operation of the new hospital".

Irish Independent

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